"By the river Narmada, lies the fort of Ahilya Holkar where one can see intricate carvings on the walls.
When looked closely, one can see that finesse inlayed in golden yarns, that became the identity of Holkar’s reign"
The first time I landed at Maheshwar was in the middle of the night, after a long, exhausting trip. The moment I set foot in the darkness, I felt a lightness in my being, as cliche as it may sound. I was all of 20, and Maheshwar was the place I chose to do my final graduation project while studying textile design. I went there with only textbook knowledge of handlooms, knowing little that the four months I would spend there would define a major part of my being.
The Maheshwari saree originated in the 18th century when Queen Ahilya had artisans migrate from Surat and Malwa to Maheshwar to design a saree that would become her identity amongst the other royalties of India. The textile, even today, is characterized by its dobby borders, simple body, and sheer texture.
I spent the four months at the homes of various weavers. Setting out after breakfast, I would get to learn denting and drafting with them, the magic of supple hands handling fine yarn after yarn, experimenting with gheecha and muga while learning of the origins and evolution of the textile from silk to cotton to today a mix of cotton-silk. I learned the subtle differences of motifs, the meaning behind them, the punching of dobby cards, and finally, the beating of fabric after the shuttle is thrown. It was a world woven within its warp and weft.
The weaving process
I co-created a collection of sarees for the Madhya Pradesh Khadi and Village Industries with the weavers' cluster. Understating their market, I played with the dhoop-chaon effect (double colored) on the sarees. The designs of the borders were traditional but amalgamated with variety of yarns to give the textile a texture. For the collection, I replaced the cotton-silk into pure silk, much like its origin. It made the textile more opulent and evening wear worthy.
Collection co-created in Maheshwar for my graduation project
As I walked down narrow alleys, I could hear a rhythmic beating from the loom, that the sound brings a sense of belonging to me even a decade later. As I think of the sun setting by the fort, I think of how Maheshwar will always be special to me because it made me fall in love with the handloom and made me find my calling.
For more detailed technical information on the Maheshwari weave, please refer to the following links: